Republican lawmakers on Thursday criticized President Biden for a deal that returned WNBA star Brittney Griner from a Russian prison camp, but failed to free Paul Whelan, a U.S. Marine veteran who has been jailed in Russia since 2018 on spying charges that the U.S. government has said are baseless.
In return for Griner, the U.S. agreed to send convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, known as the “Merchant of Death,” back to Russia. Several Republicans said that was a bad deal given the serious charges against Bout, and that Biden missed a chance to get Whelan.
“If @POTUS is going to release a guy convicted of providing aid to a terrorist organization & conspiring to kill American citizens, he should have at least gotten BOTH Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan in return,” tweeted Rep. Nicole Malliotakis, R-N.Y. “A U.S. Marine is left behind in another bad deal made by Biden.”
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“Where is U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, who has been unjustly held by Russia for far longer?” tweeted Rep. Mike Waltz, R-Fla. “Celebrities over veterans?”
Waltz said in a separate tweet, “This is absolutely shameful,” and said Biden is giving priority to a celebrity over a veteran.
“SO @POTUS just traded an enemy who smuggles guns and helps shoot Americans for an American who smuggles drugs and shoots basketballs, all while a former US Marine, Paul Whelan, rots in a Russian prison,” tweeted Rep. Scott Perry, R-PA. “Let that sink in.”
“President Biden just gave Russia its ‘Merchant of Death’ back while U.S. Marine Paul Whelan is left locked up in a Russian prison,” tweeted Rep. Lisa McClain, R-Mich. “We need justice for Paul. He should be on that plane coming home too.”
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“@POTUS @SecBlinken, it’s been over 4 years since his imprisonment,” tweeted Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill. “How much longer must his family wait? There is no place for weakness when it comes to lives of innocent Americans.”
“This is now the second prisoner exchange where President Biden has left Paul Whelan behind,” tweeted Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Mich. “A Marine and Michigan native, Paul has been wrongly imprisoned for 4 years. Absolutely heartbroken for the Whelan family. They deserve better.”
A Republican who just won a seat in the November midterm election, John Block of New Mexico, ripped the deal and said it favors Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“The Biden regime literally swapped Brittney Griner for Viktor Bout (the Merchant of Death) in Russia,” he tweeted. “Can’t make this stuff up… Biden just gave Putin exactly what he wanted.”
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Other Republicans were less critical but said there is more work to do to get Whelan and other Americans home. “I will continue my work with @RepHaleyStevens until all Americans wrongfully detained abroad are free,” tweeted Rep. French Hill, R-Ark.
Some House Democrats made similar points. Texas Rep. Colin Allred agreed that the U.S. “must remain committed to getting every American detained abroad back home.”
“While we are very happy that Brittany Griner is returning home, we cannot forget we still have Americans unlawfully detained in Russia – specifically Paul Whelan,” tweeted Rep. Bill Keating, D-Mass. “I have been in touch with his family, and they and Paul deserve all of our country’s efforts to bring him home.”
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Reps. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., Barbara Lee, D-Calif., Andy Levin, D-Mich., all tweeted that more work is needed to ensure the safe return of all Americans.